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10 September 2008

Bush Administration's jihad to Retire the Shuttle

This is a "leaked" email from NASA Grand Poobah Michael Griffin to Lynn Cline, Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations, provided by the Aero-News Network.  Sabotage the ISS?  

From: Griffin, Michael D. (HQ-AA000)
Sent: Monday, August 18 2008 6:26 PM
To: Cline, Lynn (HQ-CA000)
Cc: Dale, Shana (HQ-AB000); Scolese, Christopher J. (HQ-AI000); Morerell, Paul (HQ-AA000); Gerstenmaier, William H. (HQ-CA000); Gilbrech, RIchard J. (HQ-BA000); SHank, Christopher M. (HQ-AA000); O'Brien, Michael F. (HQ-TA000)
Subject: RE: NAC Agenda


Thanks very much for the heads up. I think Obie should have been on distribution, and have copied him accordingly.

I'm sorry. You're not going to like what I have to say here. There isn't much that I will say below that I Like either, but I'll give you the best analysis that my brain can produce. Any and all who wish to argue or disagree are welcome, even encouraged to do so. Tell me where I'm wrong. Please!

First, and to get it out of the way, I will remind Jack [Jack Schmitt, NASA Advisory Council chair] that the NAC cannot make recommendations in conflict with Executive Branch Policy, and the White House is firm on Shuttle retirement in 2010. (Actually, they can make any recommendation they want, but I have no option but to implement those which are counter to Administration policy.) Jack can, however, couch his recommendation differently so that I can use it. I'll discuss this below.

I actually agree with Jack - the game has changed. I don't agree that we're going to get any more money because of it.

Exactly as I predicted, events have unfolded in a way that makes it clear how unwise it was for he US to adopt a policy of deliberate dependance upon another power for access to ISS. In a rational world, we would have been allowed to pick a Shuttle retirement date to be consistent with Ares/Orion availability, we would have been asked to deploy Ares/Orion as early as possible (rather than "not later than 2014") and we would have been provided the necessary budget to make it so. I realize that no one on this distribution disagrees with me on this point, I'm just saying it again, that's all.

The rational approach didn't happen, primarily because for OSTP and OMB, retiring the Shuttle is a jihad rather than an engineering and program management decision. Further, they actively do not want the ISS to be sustained, and have done everything possible to ensure that it would not be. They were always "okay" with buying Soyuz/Progress, and if it didn't happen, well, that was okay too. You will recall they didn't want us to brink up the need for another INKSNA exemption during budget hearings this year. I disobeyed their wishes in doing so, because we knew that we needed to get this on the table in '08.

But we are where we are. The Russians are not going to back out of Georgia any time soon, certainly not prior to the election. If they don't, INKSNA is DoA, despite Sen. Mikulski's and Nelson's favorable comments in support of a "bipartisan solution". We might get relief somewhere well down the road, if and when tensions ease, but my guess is that there is going to be a lengthy period with no U.S. crew on ISS after 2011. No additional money of significance is going to be provided to accelerate Orion/Ares, and even if it were, at this point we can;t get there earlier than 2014, so it doesn't solve the basic problem. Commercial solutions will ultimately emerge, but not substantially before Orion/Ares are ready, if then. The alternatives are to continue flying Shuttle, or abandon U.S. presence on ISS.

This Administration will not yield with regard to continuing Shuttle operations past 2010, but the next Administration will have no investment in that decision. They will tell us to extend the Shuttle. There is no other politically tenable course. It will appear irrational - heck it will be irrational - to say that we've built a Space Station we cannot use, that we're throwing away a $100 billion investment, when the cost of saving it is merely to continue flying Shuttle. Extending Shuttle creates no damage that they will care about, other than to delay the lunar program. They will not count that as a cost. They will not see what that does for U.S. leadership in space in the long term. And even if they do, they have a problem in the short term that must be solved. Flying Shuttle is the only way to solve it.
Thus, the recommendation Jack should give, and the direction I am giving, is that SOMD and SMD need to begin working together to prepare a "Plan B" -- how we would continue to operate Shuttle, in case the new Administration directs us to do so, while doing the least damage possible to Ares/Orion, in the events that (a) extra money is made available and (b) no extra money is made available. Our focus should be on minimizing the collateral damage to NASA caused by the recent events and their likely consequences.

For the record, and without regard to the underlying truth of the proposition, I do not believe the Russians would ever admit -- nor do I think they believe -- that they need us to help them operate ISS. Yes, there are actions we could take to hold ISS hostage, or even to prevent them from using it -- power management stuff, for example. We will not take those actions. Practically speaking, the Russians can sustain ISS without US crew as long as we don't actively sabotage them, which I do not believe we would ever do, short of war. So I will not make the argument that "dependence" works both ways. We need them. They don't "need" us. We're a "nice to have". The argument that we need to get Shuttle out of the way so that conversion of VAB/MAF for Constellation can proceed is simply specious. If we are told to extend Shuttle without any new money, there is no immediate need to convert. If we're given extra money, then the VAB/MAF conflicts are solvable If we absolutely had to find a way for Shuttle and Ares/Orion to co-exist at VAB and MAF, we would. Its only a matter of money. So I'm not going to make this argument either.

Again, I am open to different views, in part because my own view is about as pessimistic as it is possible to be. And certainly I would welcome any correction of factual errors.
Otherwise, please begin preparing the briefings that Jack has requested.